WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. — The first thing Woodcliff Lake science teacher Julia Ogden did when she walked in her middle school classroom was toss the textbooks.
Then, she brought in her foster puppy and helped her students check its acute sense of smell.
Ogden's method may be unconventional, but the 14-year teacher is among the four New Jersey winners of the annual Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, including Totowa's Coshetty Vargas.
The award is the nation's highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science.
“I think it’s very important for people to be learners,” said Ogden of Westwood, a longtime animal activist. “Not just to learn the information, but to process things and question the world around them.
“That’s what I want my students to do.”
There was a time when Ogden wanted to be a veterinarian. She never seemed to like school but always longed to play with and help animals.
She feels grateful that her school’s principal and district’s superintendent support her passion so that she can bring it into the classroom.
“It’s a lot of fun to get students to look at the world around them and open their minds a little more," she said.